At first glance, the members of Fiction Family couldn't seem more different. There's Jon Foreman of power-pop rockers Switchfoot, whose growling guitars and surfer-boy melodies have sold over five million records worldwide. And there's Sean Watkins, recently of genre-spanning folk group Nickel Creek, whose 2003 record, This Side, won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album. Foreman's band has found him under the beerlights of rock 'n' roll clubs; Watkins' group played barefoot in the sunlight of nearly every outdoor music festival in the country.
So it is fitting that one of those very festivals was the impetus of Watkins and Foreman's initial meeting. Sharing a bill with Wilco and R.E.M. in 2005, the Switchfoot and Nickel Creek leaders discovered that they share a home in the sunny city of San Diego. Fast friends, they began to trade demos back-and-forth, working piece-by-piece. When Switchfoot was on tour, Watkins would carve at the songs that the two had been writing; when Nickel Creek hit the road, it was Foreman's turn to tend the garden. With Nickel Creek officially on hiatus, Watkins was able to spend more time working on what the pair had begun to call The Real SeanJon – a play on “Sean John,” one of Diddy's many incarnations. When Foreman and Watkins decided that what was once a pet project now deserved to see the light of day beyond San Diego, they changed their name to Fiction Family; Dave Matthews' ATO Records quickly agreed to release their self-titled record.
Fiction Family sounds more like Foreman's 2007 series of solo EPs than it does “Dare You to Move,” landing somewhere between radio-friendly pop melodies and the experimental acoustics of Nickel Creek. It's hard to not hear the beach in these songs, though, particularly in the melodica-touched “When She's Near,” whose harmonies more closely recall '60s surf pop than anything else the duo have released with their bands. There's enough tender, twinkling instruments to fill a toy box, and Watkins' acoustic guitars tuck themselves nicely into the mix.
It's those minor touches – Foreman's way with vocal melody, Watkins' lyrical guitar playing – that keep Fiction Family firmly planted in their identity, no matter how deep the group buries their sound at the beach. And in January, when the grey snow starts to case up the windows and slick the streets, what better way to defrost than under the glowing San Diego sun?
- Marty Garner